In the entire history of Shenandoah National Park, no visitor has been seriously injured by a bear attack. As in all national parks, the dangers of bear are FAR less than that of careless climbing or driving. If the humans (you know, the so-called smart animals) will do THEIR part, Shenandoah can maintain this streak.
The only type of bears in eastern North America (including Shenandoah) are black bears. Although black bears CAN be dangerous (see below), they are much less of a threat to humans than grizzly bears. The reason is simple: black bears are instinctively afraid of humans, and will normally run as soon as they recognize what species you are. Thus, unprovoked attacks by black bears on humans are almost un-heard of.
But amongst the things to note about these creatures is that they--
-eat a lot.
-don't understand the concept of property.
-are very adaptable and trainable, even if the latter is not intended.
Ultimately, the first two characteristics are the cause of 90% of problems between humans and bears. If a bear decides that it wants to eat some food it detects, it won't care one bit if you consider it "yours" -- it will just take it. If you leave ANY type of food (bears eat ANYTHING they can smell) in a place where a bear could get to it, you have only yourself to blame if a bear does so. Either carry food that is packaged in air-tight containers (and keep them closed till it is time to completely eat them) or follow the posted rules about food storage.
If bears were simply thieving "varmints" like foxes or sea-gulls, they would generally not be a problem. But bears are BIG. You can keep a fox from stealing your food by storing in the back seat of your car -- that will NOT work for a bear. Again, they don't understand that it is "your" car they are ripping the door off of -- all they understand is that they are hungry, and that they can get food by destroying your car.
Unfortunately, it is the last characteristic that is invariably a black bear's undoing. If they could maintain their instinctual fear at the smell of humans, then bears would continue to be less a problem than most other animals. The problem is that, once a bear UNLEARNS this fear by being "taught" that the smell of humans means easy food, it will inevitably use this new knowledge until it destroys some human property. Or worse, attack a human who refuses to provide the food that the bear thinks the human "ought" to provide.
It is thus an ABSOLUTE rule that you must NOT allow a bear to associate humans with food. In particular, *DO NOT FEED* the bears! And it is just as important that you do everything you can to ensure that a bear does not eat any food you happen to have in the Park. This includes food in coolers or cars, food that you've set out or cooked, and even food that you throw away.
Once a black bear learns that humans mean food, conflict is the inevitable result. Trained professionals MIGHT be able to break this association, but it is neither easy, cheap, or guaranteed. Once a bear becomes so caught up in this idea that it continually destroys property in order to eat, it must be killed. Thus the slogan: "A fed bear is a dead bear."
Always remember that, if your carelessness (or stupidity) results in a bear learning the above connection, you've signed that bear's death warrant, even if you won't be the executioner. Also recall that the executioner WILL be a person (a ranger) who did NOT get into this line of work in order to kill bears -- indeed, for almost all rangers, that is the LAST thing they want to do in their jobs.
So don't think the Park Rangers castigate you for leaving food at your picnic table because they enjoy doing so. They do it only because they enjoy killing bears even less.
says it best: "Cell phones have limited range from many trails"
If you begin a hike any distance from Skyline Drive, make certain that you are prepared to handle any emergency ON YOUR OWN. Do NOT assume you can use your cell phone to summon help and get you out of trouble. Plain and simple, cell phone service is quite limited in this area, and particularly on the trails.
Before you step onto a trail, calculate two time periods:
1) how long you could survive if you were immobilized and needed medical attention.
2) how long before anyone would notice you were missing, and then find you on the trail.
If (2) is greater than (1), you MUST change SOMETHING. Either increase your capacity to survive or reduce the time before you would be found.
If your "plan" is instead something along the lines of "If I get into trouble, I'll just use my cell phone to get help," then you may as well do the following (NOTE that this is sarcasm intended to make a point): take a gun, point it at your head, and pull the trigger. In the latter, if the gun is unloaded, you'll end up perfectly safe. In both cases, you're risking your life in the HOPE that nothing will go amiss. MUCH better, in both cases, to do a little planning, preparation, and checking of the risks.
If you really care about the deer and bears and other wild animals in the Park - DO NOT FEED THEM
Deer Ticks transmit Lyme Disease. Do frequent body checks for ticks. Tuck your pants under your socks.
Dispose of waste properly
Slow the spread of Emerald Ash Borer by not transporting firewood into the Park. Firewood can be purchased at camp stores and campgrounds or gathered in approved designated areas of the Park.
Pets are welcome, but keep your pet on a six-foot lead at all times.
Park Emergency Number is posted below.
Got a lot of useful tips from the website before I headed over to Shenandoah, including the one regarding snakes. I was still very surprised when I saw one! We were just returning from a trail north part of the park. We were at the very end of the trail, then I heard this "ssssssssssshhhhhhh" sound. There was a 3 feet long rattlesnake! I guess I did everything wrong according to the ranger, screaming and rapidly jumped away. Never would guessed rattlesnakes live in this part of the country.
Any way, be prepared, watch out!
Many hiking trails in the park require you to cross small streams. While there are generally stepping stones to help you cross, use caution as wet rocks can be quite slippery. Always make sure to cross on the downhill side to minimize your falling distance in case you do slip. Having to cross these streams is yet another reason to wear good hiking boots, preferably made of Goretex. If all else fails, take off your boots and socks and wade across (Note: if you do this, be sure to dry your feet before putting your footwear back on, or you run the risk of blisters).
While trails in the Shenandoah National Park are generally flat when compared to the Rockies or Alps, they are quite rocky and littered with fallen trees and logs. If you're a "shuffling" type of walker (like me), make a conscious effort to pick up your feet when you walk. Also, keep an eye on the trail ahead of you, and be sure to wear good hiking boots.
When you're hiking to places like Rattlesnake Point Overlook, you can be sure they were named that way for a reason. There are poisonous snakes in this part of the USA (primarily Copperheads and Rattlesnakes), so be careful. In the daytime, snakes will generally sun themselves on exposed rocks. Use extreme caution when hiking on rocky, sunny portions of the trail. Also, be sure to wear good high-topped hiking boots to minimize your chances of being bitten. When hiking, stay on marked trails and make noise to warn snakes (and other wildlife) of your approach. Snakes are generally not very aggressive -- you'll only get bitten if you surprise one, or if you're stupid enough to bother a snake you come across (the latter activity is not only a danger to your life, but also illegal).
- Looking at the map you may think that one hour is enough to drive Skyline Drive. You are wrong, it's 105 miles long and speed limit on Skyline Drive is 35 mph, so it takes at least 3 hours (only driving). Do not overspeed (it was not that easy for me haha).
- Watch for animals ("stupid", unpredictable does and fast running chipmunks) crossing the road and for some bends especially when the road is wet or covered by fallen leaves. If you want to take pictures of suddenly seen animal (deer) slow down and stop on the shoulder. Do not stop in the middle of the road to take pictures.
- Slow down before you enter thick fog. If you drive a hired car check in advance where to switch fog lamps on. I didn't do it but I found the correct knob easily in hired Buick LeSabre.
Many animals seldom seen along Skyline Drive are hidden somewhere in the park's expansive hardwood forest. Species like black bears, bobcats and wild turkeys usually remain in the more remote sections of the park. Do not expect to see them :-(.
Never, ever feed wildlife! Not only because it's illegal, but it's also dangerous to the animal, and it may be dangerous to you.
You are allowed to pick fruits and berries growing in the park for personal consumption. Do not pick anything else.
Rocks covered by lichens and moss are very slippery especially when wet, believe me and watch your steps.
There are people that seem to be bored with ordinary clear cut trail paths. There are signs and warnings all over the park reminding hikers to stay on the trail for safety.
Yet, we saw an older hiker in the middle of hemlock brush near a waterfall with his worried spouse pleading for him to return to the trail before he fell backwards down the mountain.
Being that Shenandoah National Park is in the high elevations, weather is a major factor. It is often very foggy on top of the Blue Ridge. The Skyline Drive is closed in adverse weather conditions as well.
When hiking make sure you have proper foot attire. The rocks are very slippery especially after a light rain..
Please obey the speed limit. There are deer everywhere!. We witnessed several cars flying (especially motorcycles) along Skyline Drive.
The Skyline Drive is a winding road that varies in elevation. The road should be driven by an experienced driver.